Since Dec. 31st, the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing better than .500 basketball. After an 89-79 win over Detroit, OKC (8-33) now has won two in a row. That’s right, TWO IN A ROW. Digest that for a minute. Swish it around, let it marinate.
How about more — when Oklahoma City left Detroit after a tough last-second loss three weeks ago, the Thunder was 3-27. Now? Eight and thirty-three. One off the 1972-73 Sixers. Think anyone’s checking ESPN’s little tracker anymore? The Thunder are 5-5 in their last 10 and have won three out of four. And also, not the worst team in the league anymore in terms of wins — OKC is now tied with Washington and the Clippers. One more: After starting 0-20 against plus .500 teams, OKC’s first winning streak came against two teams a combined 13 games over.
The first seven minutes of the fourth sealed the deal. How? Because OKC started the last frame on a 15-0 run and Detroit (22-16) didn’t score until there was 6:13 left. The Pistons were ice cold, missing their first eight shots of the fourth. Detroit was outworked all night, evidenced by the 52-35 rebounding edge in favor of the Thunder. Here’s a crazy stat: Detroit didn’t grab an offensive rebound until there was under four minutes left in the third quarter. Overall, OKC pulled down 14 offensive boards to the Pistons’ five. Over the Thunder’s last five games, they’re a +73 on the glass. As Brian Davis would say, wow.
And think about this one — the Pistons missed five straight free throws at one point in the third, but get this: Detroit was 3-8 from the line overall. That’s it. Three for eight. And it wasn’t like Detroit just shot the ball poorly or turned it over a ridiculous amount. The Pistons hit 46 percent and only gave it up nine times. No Piston scored more than 18 points. The pace wasn’t even that slow tonight, but OKC’s defense was great, giving up a season-low 79 points. In the second half, Detroit scored just 33 points. Wow, again.
You look at the box score and you see Jeff Green’s miserable shooting night going an awful 2-16 from the field and you’d think he didn’t have the best game. But as far as I’m concerned, he’s the player of the night. He was huge on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds, he dished five assists and he was an absolute force defensively. Look at Green’s +/- tonight, an awesome +17. And he wasn’t visibly frustrated with his poor shooting night. He kept working, kept driving and kept playing hard. That’s a wonderful thing.
Speaking of the +/-, the bench guys were great as Earl Watson had a +12, Chris Wilcox had a +13 and Kyle Weaver a +10. Great production from the pine tonight, especially from Wilcox who had 17 and 11. And Desmond Mason had 11 and 11 from his shooting guard position and played excellent defense on Rip Hamilton.
Russell Westbrook finally had a rookie night. About dang time. He was 2-10, scored five, had six assists and played just 27 minutes, but he was actually really good. Because the Pistons’ offensive catalyst, Rodney Stuckey, didn’t score until there was under a minute left in the third and just had three points overall. But how about that little head-fake, fake pass, up-and-under he pulled on Rasheed Wallace in the third quarter? Or that near monster dunk over the entire Pistons team toward the end of the game? Two sweet moves from RW, even on a bad offensive night.
Here’s how good OKC was as a team tonight – it’s been six paragraphs and I haven’t even mentioned Kevin Durant and his electric 32-point offensive showcase. He scored 12 in the first, four in the second, 10 in the third and six in the fourth. He was 14-21 from the field and 2-3 from downtown. He grabbed six rebounds and only turned it over three times. In other words, maybe his most complete line of the season. But one thing that impressed me more than anything was a sequence late in the second quarter. Westbrook drove and kicked out to Durant who was at the top of the key wide open for three. Tayshaun Prince was closing on him and instead of taking a good look, Durant swung the ball to Green in the corner who was open and knocked down the triple. KD has got it — he’s a superstar and an elite scorer, but he understands being a teammate first. He had his entire game working, but he didn’t force anything. It came to him and he made it look easy. I don’t care what he says — he deserves to be an All-Star.
This is the team we thought we were going to see. Competitive, gritty and a group of youngsters that are talented, but raw. The NBA season is definitely a marathon — these types of games happen for contenders. The Pistons were flat and got outplayed and outworked. But that doesn’t make it any less awesome. Especially when at one point we were looking at a 1-16 team, then 2-24, then 3-29. Now they’ve won two in a row and have another winnable home game against Miami — another plus .500 team. And one more gives OKC, (deep breath), win No. 9. That’s right.
OKC gets the Heat Sunday night at 6 p.m. at the Ford.